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Water Challenge - a blog by Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Welcome

I hope this blog will create discussion about the important issue of water use and availability around the world.

Your comments and views are very important and I encourage you to help me build and develop the conversation.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Chairman Nestlé SA

Water overuse – at the top of the 2015 WEF global risk ranking

For four years, World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risk Reports have identified water as one of the three most important challenges worldwide; this year, for the first time, it has moved to the top, as the biggest societal and economic risk for the next ten years.

The report assesses risks that are global in nature and have the potential to cause significant negative impact across entire countries and industries.

Global risks from overuse and shortage, poor water infrastructure and management came out on top – not as problems outlined by models and simulations that start from a diversity of assumptions; they are already facts today and are rapidly getting worse.

Environmental flows – for nature and humans

A Cucapá Native American watches the remains of the Colorado river once it crosses the border from the US to Mexico.  With permission of Peter McBride

In the 2030 Water Resources Group (WRG) we defined sustainable supply as natural renewal minus environmental flows. Already in 2010, annual withdrawals exceeded sustainable supply by more than 300 km3 per year, to a large extent at the expense of surface and underground water that should stay reserved for the environment.

Eight mighty rivers running dry over long periods during one year, as well as rapidly shrinking lakes like Aral and Chad - mostly as a result of overuse for irrigation, are a visible testimony to this fact.

The 2014 Creating Shared Value Global Forum: Water

With Elhad As Sy, Secretary-General IFRC, Maria Cattaui (moderator) and Margaret Catley-Carlson on the panel

Creating Shared Value (CSV) begins with the understanding that for our business and our shareholders to prosper over the long term, the communities we serve must also prosper, through actions that substantially address a social or environmental challenge. At Nestlé, we focus on three areas - rural development, nutrition and last but not least, water. In all three areas our efforts are about concrete initiatives on our own and in partnerships, but obviously, public policy dialogue is also an essential part of the concept.

On an annual basis we invite stakeholders to stimulate thinking around how business can deliver on this concept of CSV. The last meeting of this series on 9 October 2014 was co-organised by Nestlé and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

I took part in the water session; below is the transcript of some of my remarks pointing to the urgency of this problem. If you would like to watch the full session it is available here.

Water management – part two: on different users and overuse of freshwater

Water for agriculture – Berri irrigation pumping station in South Australia

In my first part I outlined some basic principles for access to water for basic needs in families and water as a human right. Let me now broaden the perspective by looking at other water users and drivers of their demand, and look into the issue of widespread and increasing overdraft of freshwater.

When talking about water management, tap water often comes to mind first. But the water used in households represents only a small percentage of total freshwater withdrawals for human use, some 10-15%.

Water management – part one: water for survival as a human right

Often when I talk about water management, some people think this means water privatisation. But it is not as simple as that.

I’d like to discuss some of my ideas on this subject in a four-part post, summarising points I’ve made earlier on this blog along the way.

Water management, for me, means using water very carefully according to its value and great importance for individuals and society - making sure there is the highest possible societal outcome from the provision and use of this increasingly scarce resource.

     

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